Ohio State's 33-23 win over Michigan State lifted the Buckeyes to 9-1 overall and 5-1 in Big Ten play. With two weeks left in the conference season, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes are in a three-way tie at the top. Things will shake out in the last two weeks since OSU plays the two teams it is tied with. No. 11 Purdue (8-2, 5-1) comes first this Saturday at Ohio Stadium. OSU wraps the regular season Nov. 22 at No. 5 Michigan (8-2, 5-1).
"I think there's a sense of urgency in everything we're doing," said OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel. "November performance is what everyone remembers. We're at a point where we have two games left after 10 games. We may as well not have played the first 10 because it's going to come down to these last two ball games for us to be where we want to be at the end of the season. Everything kind of steps it up a notch this time of year."
If OSU can muster two wins, the Buckeyes will be assured of at least the Rose Bowl. They are also expected to be ranked third in today's official Bowl Championship Series standings, meaning they still have a chance to get into the BCS top two and try and defend their national championship at the Sugar Bowl (see below).
"We have to take it one game at a time," said OSU flanker Santonio Holmes. "We can't look for it two games down the line.We have to take practice one day at a time, and that's what we're going to do."
OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk, as rugged as they come, understands how tough these next two games figure to be. He would also like to send the team‘s 24 seniors out with a win in their final home game on Saturday.
"Right now, we look at Purdue," he said. "We know they are a great team and they like to throw the ball around, too. We're going to have to do some of the same things we did today. But we are excited to come back here, a home game and it's a senior day. It's going to be exciting.
"Any senior wants to have a good senior year. We want to send them out with a win, especially after the game today with the leadership they've shown. They've done a lot for us. I know they want to go out on top and we want to come out and play hard for them."
OSU tailback Lydell Ross said the Buckeyes just need to concentrate on the task at hand.
"These two games are the most important thing," Ross said. "They are going to make our season. We're just focused on what's ahead of us. We can't take our eyes off of Purdue."
The Run For The Roses
Three teams are tied with one loss in Big Ten play as they enter the final two weeks of the regular season. Here is a look at how they finish the regular season and a best case scenario for getting to the Rose Bowl:
Michigan (8-2, 5-1)
Remaining Games:Nov. 15, at Northwestern (5-5, 3-3); Nov. 22, Ohio State (9-1, 5-1).
Best Case Scenario: Michigan's situation is pretty simple. UM needs to simply win its last two games and it is assured of at least a tie for the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl bid. It would win a head-to-head tiebreaker with Purdue for the Rose Bowl bid by virtue of head-to-head win.
Ohio State (9-1, 5-1)
Remaining Games: Nov. 15, Purdue (8-2, 5-1); Nov. 22, at Michigan (8-2, 5-1).
Best Case Scenario: OSU‘s situation is the same as Michigan‘s, although it can assure itself of an outright championship and at least the Rose Bowl with two wins.
Purdue (8-2, 5-1)
Remaining Games: Nov. 15, at Ohio State (9-1, 5-1); Nov. 22, at Indiana (2-8, 1-5)
Best Case Scenario: Purdue needs to beat OSU and Indiana, then have OSU rebound and beat Michigan. That would leave the Boilers as the Big Ten‘s only one-loss team and as the Rose Bowl rep.
Two teams are tied in the loss column with two losses: Minnesota (9-2, 5-2) and Michigan State (7-3, 4-2). Their hopes of sneaking a piece of the Big Ten championship are practically nil. They would need either Northwestern to upset Michigan or Indiana to stun Purdue -- plus an OSU loss -- to open up a multi-team situation with two losses. Not likely.
Pour Some Sugar On Me
The race for the BCS national championship game appears to be down to undefeated and top-ranked Oklahoma and three once-beatens: USC, Ohio State and LSU. Florida State, Miami (Fla.) and Virginia Tech all went by the wayside on Saturday.
Oklahoma just needs to win out, obviously, and the Sooners will be headed to the Sugar Bowl. In fact, OU can likely withstand a loss and still go. Here is a look at how this race shapes up right now:
Oklahoma (10-0, ranked first in BCS projection by collegebcs.com)
Remaining Games: Nov. 15, Baylor (3-7, 94th); Nov. 22, at Texas Tech (7-3, 32nd); Dec. 6, Big 12 championship game, likely against Nebraska (8-2, 17th) or Kansas State (8-3, 30th).
The Skinny: Even with a loss -- which seems unlikely -- OU may still get a Sugar Bowl invite.
USC (8-1, ranked second in BCS projection by collegebcs.com)
Remaining Games: Nov. 15, at Arizona (2-8, 85th); Nov. 22, UCLA (6-4, 38th); Dec. 6, Oregon State (6-3, 35th).
The Skinny: The massacre of this past weekend has slightly improved USC‘s standing as the Trojans hold a two-point lead in the BCS standings over Ohio State. They obviously need to keep winning. Arizona just stunned Washington, but is unlikely to threaten USC. The Trojans have won four straight over UCLA and Oregon State hasn‘t won at the L.A. Coliseum since 1960. It will be tight to see if USC can hang on. It would help if Washington State keeps winning and gives USC a bigger top-10 quality win deduction.
Ohio State (9-1, ranked third in BCS projection by collegebcs.com)
Remaining Games: Nov. 15, Purdue (8-2, 11th); Nov. 22, at Michigan (8-2, eighth).
The Skinny: The sad thing is USC has one win over a team that is ranked in today‘s AP poll (No. 8 Washington State). They will play no more ranked teams this season. OSU is 2-0 now (Iowa, Michigan State) with Purdue and Michigan ahead. OSU must rise up from No. 4 in the AP/coaches polls to No. 3 to have a chance. That closes half the distance between them and USC. Then, they may be able to erase the other point through improved computer rankings, strength of schedule and a top-10 quality win deduction from beating Michigan. This could go down to hundredths of a point.
LSU (8-1, ranked fourth in BCS projection by collegebcs.com)
Remaining Games: Nov. 15, at Alabama (4-6, 48th); Nov. 22, at Mississippi (8-2, 18th); Nov. 28, Arkansas (6-3, 28th); Dec. 6, SEC championship game, likely against Georgia (7-2, 10th), Florida (7-3, 14th) or Tennessee (7-2, seventh).
The Skinny: It‘s too bad that the Tigers seem to be the longest shot to make it to the Sugar Bowl, because that could be almost like a home game for them at the Sugar Bowl. But schedule strength works against LSU, even if it runs the table and beats Georgia or avenges its lone loss to Florida in the SEC title game. And, really, LSU needs a win at Ole Miss first just to get there.
One Man's Opinion
SI.com's Stewart Mandel published his bowl projections for the BCS today. His lineup looks like this:
Sugar: Oklahoma vs. USC. He is assuming the top two teams will run the table and collide for the crown.
Orange: LSU vs. Pittsburgh. He pits the SEC and Big East champions in Miami.
Fiesta: Ohio State vs. Florida State. He sees OSU losing (obviously) to Michigan, but the Fiesta still scoops OSU with the first pick to face the ACC champs.
Rose: Michigan vs. Texas. The Big Ten champs return to Pasadena to meet at-large Texas, taken second pick by the Rose.
What Mandel is missing, obviously, is TCU (9-0). If the Horned Frogs finish in the top six of the BCS standings, they get an automatic bid. They figure to be sixth today.